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Review: Hans Zimmer Mesmerizes Audience at The Shrine With an Awe-Inspiring Performance

Review By CRAIG HAMMONS

After seeing some of Hans Zimmer’s performance footage from Coachella it was going to be mandatory for me to see this modern day genius of a composer when he came back to town.   Hans was wrapping up the final shows of his 2017 tour this last weekend with shows at the Shrine and Sunday at the Santa Barbara Bowl.

On this tour he brings along a 19-piece studio band, a full orchestra and choir line that stretches the whole width of the stage.  I knew it would be a special event, so I got to the Shrine in plenty of time.  The long stretch of tour buses lined the street.  I hung outside the backstage door for a while hoping to get to meet the man who created the soundtrack to some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters.   But security said I just missed him by a couple of minutes while he was outside having a cigarette.

Driving Miss Daisy, Sherlock Holmes

I made my way to the top of the Shrine ready for the musical feast that awaits me.  The lights went down and applause rang out and there was Hans sitting at small ornate piano playing a piece from “Driving Miss Daisy.”  The show slowly builds with pieces from “Sherlock Holmes” where Hans played banjo and “Crimson Tide” and “Madagascar” before getting into a medley from “Gladiator.”    Hans said he originally worked with the vocalist Lisa Gerrard from Dead Can Dance for the soundtrack but tonight the vocals were handled by the wonderful Czarina Russell as well as the captivating full choir.   He next spotlighted the theme to “The Da Vinci Code” which had an exquisite violin solo.

Hans Zimmer and orchestra – Photo by Craig Hammons

“The Lion King Medley” was next where he brought out Lebo M to bring back his famous chants to Elton John’s “Circle of Life.”   Cheers of joy rang out as the audience got into the festive feel of these songs.

Tonight’s show was starting to feel like a rock concert with the lights, guitars and pounding drums and the next medley of songs would prove it.  It let the dynamic powerhouse composer and electric cello player Tina Guo lose on the “Pirates of the Caribbean Medley.”   She creates excitement as she attacks her cello with her bow of passion.  The music swells as Hans looks over at her with a smile.  You can almost feel Jack Sparrow crashing his pirate ship on stage.  All the musicians are spot on for this big challenging piece that makes us feel like we are all onboard this musical ship of adventure.

Man of Steel, Spider Man

Hans then played a couple of themes from some famous comic book characters that became movie stars “Man of Steel” and “The Amazing Spider Man 2.”   But the piece that moved me the most was “The Dark Knight Suite.”   It was easy to capture the audience with the musical intensity of this piece while letting each musician to shine.   At the end Hans spoke briefly about the Aurora Colorado mass killing during a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.”  He said he felt he had to write a piece of music that would feel like arms were wrapped around you holding you safe.  He then went into a beautiful piano piece simply called “Aurora.”

The last piece of the night was the “The Interstellar Medley” which starts with just a few piano chords and then builds slowly with guitars and bass that rattle the rafters.  It moves into a dramatic finale where we are ready to blast off.  Hans steps out from behind his keyboards to conduct as they reached the final crescendo.  He then introduced the each member of the band before leaving the stage with the audience on their feet and in awe of the musical spectacle they just witnessed.

Amazing experience with Hans Zimmer and orchestra – Photo by Craig Hammons

Standing Ovation

A standing ovation and thunderous applause brought everyone back out on stage for an encore with “The Inception Medley” where Hans strapped on a guitar and played like a true rock star.  The powerful chords of this piece pounded in my heart while tears of joy swelled in my eyes.   The percussion movement in the piece creates suspense and excitement as music over takes you.  The strings then take over only to fade with Hans sitting alone at his piano playing two notes slowly as he ends the lights go out and the show is over.

Tonight’s show proved what a brilliant performer, composer and all around good guys Hans Zimmer is.

He never had one piece of sheet music in front of him for this almost three hour show.  They all took their final bow and the Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” came over the speaker system.   We all exited the building satisfied that we had all just beheld on the greatest musical experiences of our lifetime.

A New Record for California Rocker – Five Journalism Awards with Two First Place Finishes in One Year

Site Wins Social Media and Best Blog Awards

By JOHN DALY

LOS ANGELES – The team at CaliforniaRocker.com has set the standard: Donna Balancia and her editorial team have won five journalism awards in one year.

CaliforniaRocker.com won two first-place awards and a third-place award for photography categories in the National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards.  The accolades were followed by two third place awards in social media and best website categories at the Southern California Journalism Awards this month.

In total, the CaliforniaRocker.com reporter and photographer team  has collected nine journalism awards in the last three years.

Donna Balancia won Best Action Photo for this image of Cedric Bixler-Zavala of At The Drive-In - Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

Donna Balancia won Best Action Photo for this image of Cedric Bixler-Zavala of At The Drive-In – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

Balancia: ‘Great Honors’

“These are great honors and we are excited and happy to be rewarded for our hard work,” said Balancia. “With photographers Heather Harris, Suzanne Allison, Alyson Camus as well as writers like Craig Hammons, John Daly and Dan MacIntosh we have a great team.”

The most recent awards, in the Best Blog and Best Social Media categories were for innovative work based on new media delivery and social media for coverage of Smashmouth at The Canyon Club.

Suzanne Allison Witkin won first place for her photo essay on The Hollywood Vampires – Photo by Suzanne Allison Witkin

‘Great Team’

Balancia credits her team with keeping CaliforniaRocker.com as well as EastCoastRocker.comand WestCoastRocker.com on the cutting edge.

“It requires dedication to journalism with great reporters to keep publications rolling today,” Balancia said. “We want to provide a service to musicians and we keep going.”

Dee Snider with son Jesse at the Whisky A Go-Go were among the artists whose stories brought a best blog win – Photo © 2016 Heather Harris

Support of the Musicians

“CaliforniaRocker.com has received the support of musicians and artists alike and it’s a satisfying feeling to win on their behalf,” Balancia said. “We have a great staff and we put out quality reports.”

In addition to interviews and photographs with Johnny Winter, Mike Campbell, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, and many young and up and coming bands, there are works that have brought tons of hits behind the scenes.

Heather Harris won for her coverage of rocker James Williamson’s Alternative A-List Concert at The Bootleg, Balancia won for her coverage of supergroup The New Basement Tapes and CaliforniaRocker.com has won best blog categories in previous years.

Another such multimedia package was the exclusive interview of Keith Levene done by Ivor Levene and Melanie Smith. 

Keith Levene exclusive interview by Ivor Levene and Melanie Smith

 

Smash Mouth duo Steve Harwell and Paul DeLisle hang together - Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

Smash Mouth duo Steve Harwell and Paul DeLisle hang together – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

‘Winners Overcome Obstacles’

Balancia said the awards come at a time when journalism is under attack and companies are cutting more reporters, editors and content creators than ever before.

“We are honored that we continue to win despite the odds,” Balancia said. “These awards are special because true journalism — and not ‘selfie’ reports — is becoming more and more rare. Music journalism in particular is not given the credit it deserves for the important role it plays in today’s culture. We are proud to be a force representing creative arts.”

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Captivates Hearts and Minds – At The Greek Theatre and The Egyptian Movie House

By CRAIG HAMMONS, Photos by ALYSON CAMUS

To witness a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds show is like having a spiritual rock and roll cleansing. He captures hearts and souls whether on the stage at The Greek or talking to an intimate crowd at The Egyptian.

Cave recently put on a riveting tour-ending performance at The Greek and also gave a heartfelt look into tragedy and recovery at a screening of One More Time With Feeling at The Egyptian.

When you see him, you will experience love, loss and redemption and come out feeling better at the end.

Nick Cave at The Greek - Photo © 2017 Alyson Camus for California Rocker

Nick Cave at The Greek – Photo © 2017 Alyson Camus

The Greek Performance

His sold-out tour-closing performance at The Greek showed a man who took life’s biggest tragedy, made peace with it and let his lyrical sentiments out for us all to receive.  Before the show started everyone was in their seat as this was going to be a ride you have to experience from the start.  The devoted fans in the pit were all standing in anticipation of the man who would get so close to them that you could feel his heartbeat.

Opening with three songs from last year’s emotional and raw Skeleton Tree the evening started on a calm note.  “Anthrocene” led us in slowly with Nick’s stark vocals only to be followed by the eerie “Jesus Alone” in which Nick sings “… with my voice, I am calling you.”   During “Magneto,” Cave made his first trip into the crowd holding on tight to the outstretched hands while singing about love.  This is Nick Cave’s world and we are entering it to share his emotions, find the passion and embrace it.

Nick Cave played the Greek and gave insight into his life at The Egyptian – Photo by Alyson Camus

‘Higgs Boson Blues’

The calm was about to change as we were now under the spell of this mic cord-whipping master of musical mayhem.  “Higgs Boson Blues” almost hymnlike goes from a whisper to a howl when Cave and the audience sing “boom, boom, boom” as he grabs the hand of a fan and puts it on his chest.  Next up from the Bad Seeds 1984 debut was the powerful “From Her to Eternity.”  Smiling and sneering with savage grace Cave practically crawls across a sea of hands achieving sheer intensity while making the audience part of the show.  At one point he was grabbed in the crotch and said that “this could be on the job sexual harassment.”    On “Tupelo,” Cave delivers his message like a southern preacher hell bent on getting his message across.

It was now time to slow things down a bit with “The Ship Song,” about Cave finding love during his stay in Brazil.  But next up was the beautiful love song “Into My Arms” written while Cave was still in rehab.   The lyrics “I believe in love and I know you do too” touched the audience as they cheered and felt one of the many “wow” moments of the night.   Those moments would not come without the Bad Seeds a machine that is complex in delivery but easy to feel its intensity.   They are craftsmen that take all the right components to make music that affects us all.   Add Caves dense and brooding lyrics which you could say boarders on the same greatness as Cohen, Bowie or Dylan and you got the right mates to deliver the goods with a level of showmanship that is hard to match.

Nick Cave has survived tragedy and made it through – Photo by Alyson Camus

Tear-jerking Performance

Cave then came and sat at a chair at the end of the stage to sing “I Need You” one of the most heartfelt songs from “Skelton Tree” where he sings “nothing really matters when the one you love is gone”.  You can hear the emotional pain in his voice as he sings his way through the darkness and heartbreaking loss that was so strong I had to wipe away the tears in my eyes.

The now classic “Red Right Hand” was next and delivered in true Bad Seeds-style of chaotic beauty.  During “Distant Sky” Danish soprano Else Torp sang her part on the screen behind the band while wild multi-instrumentalist and Cave’s writing partner Warren Ellis plays a beautiful violin solo.  The final song of the night was the album closer “Skeleton Tree”.

One More Time With Feeling at The Egyptian – Photo by Alyson Camus

The Encore

The encore started with “The Weeping Song” where Cave decided to go out and embrace the audience again before going into the full tilt frenzy of “Stagger Lee” where this time he went interactive by inviting about a 100 people to join him on stage.   The song was written out of a long studio jam and has since become a staple in the set.  It is about as ferrous as it gets.  Cave said “God gave us “Stagger Lee” and they were pissing themselves with laughter when they did”.

The night ended with “Push Away the Sky” which Cave sings “And some people say it’s just rock and roll, Ah but it gets you right down to your soul.”    Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds touched our souls tonight and for a good portion or the audience they were able to touch him back.

Our colleague Alyson Camus was at The Egyptian, where Cave screened One More Time With Feeling. Read her work at NYC Live and Recorded.

Craig Hammons

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds with Cat Power
Greek Theatre – June 29, 2017

Hammons: With New Album, ‘Back From The Grave,’ The Sloths Connect With Young Audience

Tom McLoughlin: ‘Fifty Years Later We Are Living The Dream’

By CRAIG HAMMONS

Sometimes you find rock and roll and sometimes rock and roll finds you.

I got up early on this Sunday morning, grabbed a cup of coffee and checked my Facebook page.   I saw a listing for the Muscochella Music and Arts Festival at Chapman University and as I scrolled down I saw The Sloths were playing at 2 P.M.  The Sloths are a band whose reputation precedes them and has never left them for almost 50 years.  I have heard so much about The Sloths and now I will have the chance to see them live in Orange County on a Sunday afternoon.  I was freaking out and was ready to rock.

Sloths original frontman Tommy McLoughlin has a way with the gals - Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

Sloths original frontman Tommy McLoughlin has a way with the gals – Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

When I got to the festival a light jazz band was playing some funky grooves while everyone leisurely relaxed on the grass between the two stages.  Next up was a folky cat that was playing a George Strait song which forced me to evacuate the area for a short time.  As I wandered back I saw the Sloths setting up.  I went over to the stage and saw my buddy Rik Collins (Wooly Bandits, Motobunny, and The Seeds) who is now playing guitar and bass for The Sloths.  I told him how excited I was to be able to see a band that was part of the early rock and roll revolution of the ’60s.  He said “You are in for a really good time”.

The Sloths have a new album, 'Back From The Grave' - Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

Tom McLoughlin: Frontman, professor and film director – Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

The stage was set as these rockers came out of the garage to play in the broad day light to us eager and privileged fans.   The Sloths started with “7 and 7 Is,” a song that paid tribute to one their early influences Arthur Lee and Love.  Next up was the toe tapper “A Cutie Named Judy” originally done by Jerry “Boogie” McCain.  Lead singer (as well as film professor and director)  Tom McLoughlin was already in full tilt rock and roll mode working the stage like it was 1965 and whipping the crowd into a frenzy.   The next song “Never Enough Girls” was originally written for Joey Ramone.  The Ramones did record a version but Joey was never able to lay down the vocals.  The song was offered to The Sloths and they made this infectious track their own.  Once you hear this song you will never get it out of your head.

 

The Sloths: American Rock N Roll to the core - Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

The Sloths: American Rock N Roll to the core – Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

New Album ‘Back From The Grave’

The Sloths played most of the songs off their new album that was 50 years in the making titled, The Sloths: Back From the Grave.  It was now time to take this party to the people and Tom McLoughlin jumped into the audience to sing their song “Lust.”  We all started dancing around him in sort of a hippie communal kind of way, feeling the music inside where it feels so good.

Tom, who also teaches film at Chapman University returned to the stage to address the crowd of almost all college students.  He said “we all have dreams and what happens after you all get out of this place is to never give up your dreams, sometimes you do a bunch of other stuff like get married, have kids, get a crappy job and then somehow by God’s crazy sense of humor it turns around and you get to get to do what you always wanted to do.  It happened to us up here 50 years ago we had the dream and 50 years later we are living the dream.”  Tom should do the commencement address for this year’s graduating class.

Glad I got to connect with The Sloths - Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

Glad I got to connect with The Sloths – Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

The Sloths are all solid musicians.  Original founding member Michael Rummans (singer, songwriter, guitar and bass) has never left the garage and plays with a vengeance and appreciation of the music that mean so much to his life.  New lead guitarist Ruben De Fuentes has played with Blue Cheer and Steppenwolf took some incredible leads.  He may be quiet on stage but unleashes supreme shredding when it is time to shine.  Drummer Ray Herron keeps the beat going and keeps these boys on track.  We are all blessed that after all this time these 60’s rockers found each other to reunite the passion and power of The Sloths.

Professor Tom McLoughlin: 'Never Give Up Your Dreams' - Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

Professor Tom McLoughlin: ‘Never Give Up Your Dreams’ – Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

The clock was ticking and it was now time to play the song that first put them on the map “Makin Love.”  This song is considered a true 60’s classic and has just been re-released on 7 inch vinyl for record store day.  The crowd ate it up even though most probably never even heard it before.  Without stopping they went right into their closing number “Gloria” by Them. The Sloths had one more number to do but due to time restraints had to close out their set.  The small but mighty crowd cheered as these 60’s icons said “goodbye.”

The Sloths connect across a broad swath of fans - Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

The Sloths connect across a broad swath of fans – Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

This is the dawning of the age of The Sloths.  They are back after all these years and deserve all the respect and recognition that comes their way.  Go buy the new album, go see them live, go online and read their story, dance and have fun.  You can thank me later.   But most of all remember to live your dream.  The Sloths did and you can too.

Hammons Review: Sir Rod Stewart Makes A Knight To Remember in Knockout Caesars Palace Performance

By CRAIG HAMMONS

The curtain was drawn and anticipation was running high.  At 7:30 P.M. sharp the theme to The Magnificent Seven came roaring out of the public address system.  The curtains then opened to Rod Stewart’s band kicking into the Bar-Kays instrumental “Soul Finger.”

Rod then came prancing out on stage in his new leopard skin jacket to a thunderous round of applause and went right into “Having a Party.”  Now the mood was set for this evening of fun and foolish behavior. Rod didn’t miss a beat and went right into “Some Guys Have All the Luck” and “Young Turks” to make for a very energetic start.

Sir Rod Stewart lit up the crowd at Caesars - Photo by Craig Hammons for California Rocker

Sir Rod Stewart lit up the crowd at Caesars – Photo by Craig Hammons

Rod is doing residency here at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas before heading out on a world tour with Cindy Lauper that starts in the United Kingdom in May.  Rod welcomed the audience and said “We’re going to be here for the next 90 minutes so enjoy yourselves, ladies and gentlemen, it’s later than you think.”

A beautiful blonde sat down behind a very large gold harp and played the opening of “Tonight’s the Night.”  The audience knew this one by heart and sang along to every word.

Rod didn’t slow things down for long as he then paid honor to Chuck Berry who he had just learned had passed away earlier in the day.

Rod Stewart performed the classics at Caesars - Photo by Craig Hammons for California Rocker

Rod Stewart performed the classics at Caesars – Photo by Craig Hammons for California Rocker

“The first album I ever bought was Chuck’s Live at the Tivoli and I was never the same,” Rod said. “He was the founding father and you can hear his influence in every rock n roll band from my generation on.”

A picture of Chuck Berry flashed on the big screen and they went right into a rocking version of “Sweet Little Rock & Roller” with Rod working the stage like the true showman he is.

There was then a nod to Sir Rod’s recent knighthood before going into “Rhythm of My Heart” followed by “Forever Young” in which the crowd was signing so loud Rod gave it to us to sing all alone.   There was a percussion solo in the middle of the song which allowed Rod to slip off stage to make a costume change.

Rod and the band - Photo by Craig Hammons

Rod and the band – Photo by Craig Hammons

In true Rod Stewart fashion, in his band are beautiful and talented female violinists, harpist, mandolin players and three backup singers that keep the party going.  The impressive work from his male guitarist, drummers, bassist and sax player brought an age of freshness to these timeless classics.

Next up was a powerful and uplifting version of Tom Waits “Downtown Train” which, like many other covers he does, Rod made entirely his own.

Rod then decided to have a sit-down and brought the band to the front of the stage for an acoustic set starting with “The First Cut is the Deepest.”  He then asked “How many of you remember the Faces?” and the cheers rang out as they went into the Faces “Oh La La” off the Faces final album in 1973.   While they were are still seated it was time for Rod’s solo classic “You’re in My Heart” and the Van Morrison song “Have I Told You Lately” which Rod covered perfectly on his Unplugged and Seated album.

The three backup singers came back out center stage to shake it up to a rip roaring version of Ike and Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High.”   The band was tight and rolling down the river at full speed while the girls were dancing so hard Tina Turner would be proud.  Rod is a generous frontman who does put the spotlight on the band allowing them solos and the attention they deserve.

The one and only Rod Stewart plays Vegas before world tour - Photo by Craig Hammons

The one and only Rod Stewart plays Vegas before world tour – Photo by Craig Hammons

Rod now back out center stage with a new jacket and fresh pair of trousers played the song everyone grew up with the ever irresistible “Maggie May.”  Everyone was on their feet singing along when Rod decided to take a trip out into the audience.   He worked his way around the back of the orchestra section shaking hands, giving hugs and singing his heart out.   Once he got back on stage the band launched into “Stay With Me” and balloons fell from the ceiling and out came the soccer balls.  Rod at 72 still plays with a local soccer team and showed off his talent kicking some all the way up to the second level.

Sir Rodrick David Stewart played us the hits but saved one of his biggest for last “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy.”

The crowd loves Rod Stewart and he's still got the moves - Photo by Craig Hammons for California Rocker

The crowd loves Rod Stewart and he’s still got the moves – Photo by Craig Hammons for California Rocker

 

This two time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honoree showed us after over 100 million records sold he still is very relevant and “forever young.”  Tonight was the night and everything was better than alright.  The curtain was closing but the energy still filled the room with the crowd screaming for more.

The curtain came back up and the band wished everyone a good night and went into the Guy Lombardo’s “Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think).”   Rod Stewart gave us a selection of his hits, no American Songbook or new material just the songs we know in our heart by heart.

Hammons Review: The Crazy World of Arthur Brown Still Amazes the Fans Almost a Half Century Later

By CRAIG HAMMONS

Still Crazy, Arthur Brown - Photo by Craig Hammons

Still Crazy, Arthur Brown – Photo by Craig Hammons

When growing up one of the first records I ever bought that changed my life was The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.   Little did I know that almost a haft of century later I would be witnessing an amazing night of theatrics, psychedelic blues and the compelling showmanship of the man himself Arthur Brown.  He goes through more costume changes than Cher and has better dance moves than Jagger.

The evening started out with a quartet from Ohio name Electric Citizen led by the very dramatic and animated lead singer Laura Dolan.  Their brand of heavy rock was well received by the crowd and was a perfect opening for what was to be an epic night.  Most of the songs they played were from were from their latest release Higher Time.

Next up was White Hills who have been around since 2005 playing their brand of fuzz heavy psychedelic rock and roll.  The two members Ego Sensation (bass) and Dave W. (guitar, keyboard and vocals) led us on a trip into space filling the room with sonic sounds of ethereal heaviness.  But as their set progressed we just wanted what we came for the mighty and majestic Arthur Brown.

The moment we were all waiting for had finally arrived the man, the myth and the legend was now ready to grace the stage.   The band started things off with an instrumental introduction while we all waited enthusiastically for our leader into the crazy world we were about to visit to take the stage.   Once Arthur Brown arrived he was greeted with a thunderous round of applause from a very excited crowd.

They opened with the title track from their latest release Zim Zam Zim.  They then went on to captivate the audience with their classics and tracks from their vast catalogue of releases.  Arthur Brown’s singing ability at 74 is in fine form.  He can hit the high and low notes with ease and sing the blues like a true bluesman especially on his fine cover of Screamin Jay Hawkins “I Put a Spell on You.”

Arthur Brown at The Regent Theater - Photo by Craig Hammons for California Rocker

Arthur Brown at The Regent Theater – Photo by Craig Hammons

The show moved at a brisk pace while Arthur Brown mesmorized the audience with costume change and riveting vocal power.  One of the craziest costumes of the night was him dressed in a coat of LED lights during the song “The Unknown.”

With each song the energy got higher and Arthur decided to go out into the audience to touch the fans that were worshiping a power of passion they could have never imaged.  As he passed by me I patted him on the back and felt some of the electricity he was generating.

The Regent was ready to explode as the God of Hellfire lit his headdress on fire to sing the song we all know “Fire.”   To see this man at his age dance, sing and entertain the way he does is nothing short of an experience that will live on in our minds forever.

The band then played their last two songs of the night leaving the audience in total awe.

I feel very lucky to have witnessed one of the greatest rock acts of all time.  Tonight was rock and roll history.

This was a short run of only eight dates but from what I understand there will be another run of shows in September.  Do not miss this undisputed master of mayhem next time.

Hammons Review: Kenny Wayne Shepherd Brings Blues to Life for Packed Crowd @ Coach House

By CRAIG HAMMONS

Guitar slinger Kenny Wayne Shepherd came barnstorming into the Coach House on this cold rainy night to raise the roof of this juke joint.  This was the second night of his 2017 tour and this packed house knew they were about to witness a blistering rock and roll blues show. Most of the crowd must have seen Kenny before as anticipation was high and the audience seemed energized before the band even took the stage.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd at the Coach House - Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

Kenny Wayne Shepherd at the Coach House – Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

The lights dimmed and the band came out smoking with “Somehow, Somewhere, Someway” with Kenny going off like a wild animal that was just let out of his cage.  The band proceeded at a blistering pace, knocking out songs, solos and riffs like bluesmen playing with a vengeance. Just when you thought you could catch your breath they went into “The House is Rocking,” where Kenny pays tribute to his mentor the blues master Stevie Ray Vaughn.  The band kept it rocking as they then did the Stooges classic “Search and Destroy” with Kenny on lead vocals.  This song was covered on an album by Kenny’s side project The Rides, consisting of Steven Stills and Barry Goldberg.

After a four-song knockout it was time to bring things down a bit and they played a beautiful song called “I Found Love.”  Kenny explained that when they went to record it the producer wanted them to play it fast and upbeat.  But tonight they played it the way it was written as a slow blues ballad.  Kenny then took over lead vocals again on the old Elmore James song “Talk to Me Baby” before taking us back to the beginning with his first big hit “Deja Voodoo.”

The band would not be who they are without the mighty lead vocals from frontman Noah Hunt.  Kenny and Noah have been together for over 20 years and the chemistry between them shows as they interact on stage like brothers.   Kenny then said it was time to pay respect to one of the blues masters he was able to learn from and play with the late great BB King.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd at the Coach House - Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

Kenny Wayne Shepherd at the Coach House – Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

They then went on to play to perfection “Woke up This Morning” and “You Done Lost Your Good Thing.”

Kenny Wayne Shepherd and his band have a solid reputation as a live act and tonight they showed us why.  All of their studio songs are great but when they play them live they kick it up a notch or two and floor it.  They are the real deal and deliver their brand of rocking blues with sincere honesty and conviction allows them to carry the blues torch to future generations.

They ended with “Shotgun Blues” with the lyrics “Now I am a man baby, I ain’t no boy no more,” with Kenny going off like he sold his soul at the crossroads.  Kenny got his first guitar at the age of 3 from his grandmother when she cashed in her S and H Green Stamps.  Now he has a collection of guitars and is playing one with the crossroads sign on it.   Sweating, happy and ready for more they left the stage for a brief moment only to be called back by the dedicated crowd of fans all whipped up into a blues frenzy.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd at the Coach House - Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

Kenny Wayne Shepherd at the Coach House – Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

Coming back strong with their most notable hit “Blue on Black” Noah Hunt had the whole audience singing along.  But it was now time to get this wang dang doodle of a party started and let Kenny show his stuff on the Slim Harpo tune “King Bee.”  This song takes him to another level as Kenny seems to be channeling the blues from some of the fallen legends he grew up on. Ending the night with an intensely powerful version of Hendrix’ “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).”

Kenny rips into his guitar like the ghost of Jimi is watching over him and makes it look easy in the process. Playing like a freight train rolling full speed down the tracking he seemed like he didn’t want to stop.  After a solid two hours of good time rocking blues they said goodnight this thankful crowd that got what they came for a rock and blues show of epic proportions.

Hammons Reviews: Thievery Corporation Still Keeps The Fans Dancing Under the Black Moon

By CRAIG HAMMONS

Thievery Corporation celebrates 20 years - Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Thievery Corporation celebrates 20 years – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Thievery Corporation brought their hypnotic grooves, intricate rhythms and mystical funk to the Santa Barbara Bowl on this cool summer evening.  This is the 20-year anniversary of a band that continues to inspire with their broad canvas of styles and sounds.

Opening the show was Mexico City’s favorite band of muy loco rockers Café Tacuba.  These guys really know how to get the party started.  Lead singer Ruben Albarran and guitarist Jose Alfredo Rangel got the audience up and dancing to their various styles of espanol rock and roll.  The band’s flashy costumes and energy won over the early arrivals and set a festive tone for the evening.

As sun was setting and the black moon rising the anticipation was running high as most of the audience I talked to had seen Thievery Corporation before.  The lights dimmed and the familiar sounds of sitar, bass and percussion jammed out on the opening instrumental “Facing East.”

As the song ended out comes the first vocalist of the evening Lou Lou Ghelickhani singing “Take My Soul” a song with lush textures and sweet vocals.   The set had a caravan of rotating vocalist for each song.   Next up was Jamaican vocalist to get us fired up and grooving to songs such as “Blasting Through” and “Radio Retaliation.”   Before the song “Culture of Fear,” the vocalist said he was afraid of the police.  The opening line “seems to me like they want us to be afraid, man” touches on what is going on in our world today.

Set List of Crowd Favorites

Rob Myers rocked out on sitar - Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Rob Myers rocked out on sitar – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Thievery Corporation has the mighty DJs Rob Garza and Eric Hilton sitting high above the band knocking out the beats mixing them with their many different cultural styles.  This tour being their 20 Anniversary had a set list full of crowd favorites and even a few covers.

About half way thru the set they did a version of Grateful Dead’s “Fire on the Mountain” and later the percussionist came forward to sing a rocking version of the Door’s “Strange Days.”

The quality of the musicianship and vocal power of all the singers highlight their vast changes in musical styles.  Ashish Vyas the bass player never stops moving while high stepping across every square inch of the stage.  Rob Myers the sitar / guitar player rocked hard on both instruments.  My favorite singer of the night was the mighty and majestic Natalia Clavier.  Her soft and sexy vocals styling on such songs as “Lebanese Blonde” draw you in to her seductive charm.

Rob Garza on Guitar

ruben-cafe-tacuba-california-rocker

Ruben Albarran of Cafe Tacuba – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

They heated things up again with two live show staples “Vampires” and “Heart is the Hunter.”  They created such a bond with the audience we all forgot about out problems and were fully engaged with their rhythms, beats and intricate electronic music.  Rob Garza came down from his DJ booth to play guitar as they closed with “Warning Shots.”  Everyone was dancing to the heavy bass riff and rap reggae vocals.   Rob then stepped to the mic and said “we weren’t going to do this song” but he said he wrote it while he was roaming the hills above Santa Barbara and they went in to the sweet and sensual “Depth of My Soul.”

As this sweaty hippie groove party was about to end they came back out and jammed on the instrumental track “The Forgotten People” before bringing Lou Lou back to sing “Sweet Tides.”  But it would not be a Thievery Corporation show without doing “The Richest Man in Babylon” from there 2002 album of the same name.  After shaking my suitcase for two hours with this band of incredible musicians and the two beautiful songstresses I felt good to be alive.  A band of this caliber should not be ignored.  Every person there was a delighted fan or was converted by the sweet melody, atmosphere and vibe only Thievery Corporation can provide.

Hammons Reviews: Yo Yo Ma and Friends Show at Hollywood Bowl Brings Music Worlds Together

Global Ensemble Make Beautiful Noise at Hollywood Bowl

A night that brought worlds together - Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

A night that brought worlds together – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

By CRAIG HAMMONS

Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble bring the world together in music and song as they end their 17-date run of the USA at the Hollywood Bowl.

Yo Yo Ma is a man who understands once music hits the ear it makes order out of chaos.  It joins people together – there is no culture that doesn’t have music.  Ma brought together the evolution of his favorite 18-year project, The Silk Road Ensemble.

Transcending Borders

The music they create celebrates difference by exploring the unfamiliar and giving them the opportunity to build something new.

The opening fanfare showed what it is like to transcend borders and the joy of allowing it to happen thru music.  Cristina Pato from Spain playing Galician bagpipes and Wu Tong playing the Chinese horn in electrifying abandon meet center stage connecting two sides of the world and their cultural roots.  Next up was “Ichichila” a tune traditionally sung by the people of West Africa.  It had a cool relaxed vibe to it and a good way to set the tone for the evening.

© 2016 Craig Hammons

Bagpipes, horns and violins – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Silk Road violinist Colin Jacobsen — originally from Minnesota — brought us “O’Neil’s Calavary March,” a tune in the Irish tradition that dates back to the early 1800s.

It featured layers of instruments from a kamancheh, a pipa and some western strings.

On “Green (Vincent’s Tune)” they took a simple melody and turned it into an explosion of bass drumming and gong slamming gone mad.

My favorite song of the night was from Syrian clarinetist Kinan Azmeh called “Wedding.” He said that back home in Syria amist the bombs dropping and the daily fear, there is still the search for love.  This a song about coming together to beat the odds and celebrate.  He warned us that this song could get loud and next thing I knew it was like we were in a Syrian village party.  He dedicated it to all the Syrians who have managed to fall in love in the last five years.

Silk Road Ensemble

Ma did come forward to explain how the Silk Road Ensemble came together but mainly was just another member of the band.  He picked up his cello joined Christina Pato now on piano to do a piece together that was beautiful and full of emotion.

Myriad colors and music - Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Myriad colors and music – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

There were many other mergers of musicians and instruments some that seemed improvised while others were full grooves and rhythms.

Kayhan Kalhor, one of the band’s core members, plays a kamancheh otherwise known as an Iranian fiddle.  He was featured in many of the songs making his instrument sing while at time putting us into a trance.

Tribute to Prince

Some of the crowd wished there was more Ma but no one was disappointed.  They closed out the night with a colorful version of Prince’s “When Doves Cry” a song that fit well into their repertoire.   The Bowl was lit purple and the crowd was on their feet giving these musicians from around the world the standing ovation they deserve.

Many of the selections tonight were on the Silk Road’s new recording Sing Me Home. You can find out more about the Silk Road Ensemble at silkroadproject.com.

Michael Franti and Spearhead’s ‘Soulrocker’ Tour Brings Love to the Pacific Amphitheatre

By CRAIG HAMMONS

– SOULROCKER (Sol-rahk-er) – One who lives from the heart, with compassion for all, and possesses a tenacious enthusiasm for music, life and the planet.

Once Michael Franti and his band Spearhead stepped on stage, this evening became a celebration of life.

He’s a soul saver, life changer and spiritual and lyrical activist whose music gives fans renewed energy and a stronger sense of purpose.  We were here to hear the music that would take our minds off the madness that’s going on in this crazy world and unite us all as one.

The crowd was already on their collective feet ready to dance, sing and rejoice in the music that would bring good vibes to us all night long.  Once you attend a Franti concert you understand the power of this man, his band, his message of love and the pleasure it brings.  By his second song “Sound of Sunshine,” he had already invited a couple of kids on stage to join him.  These are family shows that span generations.  Franti works the stage with his arms wide open.  When he asks “How ya feelin’?” we all respond with cheers of happiness.

Michael Franti and the Soulrocker tour - Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Michael Franti and the Soulrocker tour – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

The songs on the current tour are heavily focused on his newest CD, Soulrocker.  When he performed the latest single “Good to Be Alive Today,” he engaged the audience to listen and understand deep inside what he’s singing about.  He then entered the audience and made his way back to the mid-section armed only with his guitar and a song.

Along the way he hugged, took photos and let people sing with him.  The crowd becomes one and we listen to his quiet observations on things that are personal but yet universal.  When he told the audience about growing up as an adopted child he said “We were told to receive everyone as we would want to be received, regardless of their background, race or what school they came from.”

It brought tears to my eyes to see a mother lift her son out of his wheelchair and hold him up to dance together for a few minutes.  Franti on his way back to the stage saw this and stopped and gave them both a big hug while still singing.  I later spoke to the mom who said her son was paralyzed on his right side and had not smiled from ear to ear for years, but tonight he was wearing a full smile.

Michael Franti and the Soulrocker tour - Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Michael Franti and the Soulrocker tour – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

The live show is a musical miracle we all share together.  I walked in to the Pacific Amphitheatre tonight knowing about three people.  When I left I felt like I had 7,000 new friends.  When he sang “Once a Day,” he asked us to interlock our arms together with our neighbors and create a universal bond.  The old man and his wife next to me put their arms around me as we sang “Everybody ought to hug somebody, at least once a day and we all will rise up.”  The live show is also a dance party when Franti says “I want to see everyone jump!” every single person had their hands in the air jumping and reaching for the moon.

I looked around and saw the energy, fun and smiles on the faces of everyone there.  Franti says “I make music because I believe it can change people’s lives and make a difference in the world.”  Tonight we all believed in his message.

Michael Franti and the Soulrocker tour - Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

G. Love and Special Sauce on Soulrocker tour – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Towards the end of the set he said “We got to get some kids up here!”  Next thing, he had about two dozen kids on stage singing “Say Hey (I Love You)” with him.  He gave the mic to the little kid next to him who knew every word.   He then did “My Lord” which turned the place into a giant party with people dancing in the aisles, holding each other, making new friends, crying tears of joy and for a few hours, feeling — as Bob Marley once sang — that “Every little thing is going to be all right.”  He then thanked the whole crew from each band member to the bus driver.  As they whole crew came out John Lennon’s imagine was playing over the sound system.

Michael Franti and Spearhead touched each and every one of us tonight with his love and honesty.  So let’s all be Soulrockers and be full of compassion and one day maybe the world will live as one.

Opening the evening was G. Love and Special Sauce who brought his brand of blues, funk and soul that was well received.

Soulrocker Tour – Pacific Amphitheatre with G. Love and Special Sauce

Empire of the Sun Heat up Pacific Amphitheatre, Frontman Steele Smashes His Guitar to Bits

By CRAIG HAMMONS – To truly enjoy Empire of the Sun you have to see the live show and that is what 7,000 of us colorful fans did this perfect summer evening.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mmmchoco/23945842866/in/photolist-Cu1GPL-BXP3ZT-ByND3N-ByVWqt-ByVWiK-Cw66gD-Byzby1-CoN42R-C4XzDh-C4XzyY-CoN3JM-BXzAFr-Cw656T-Cw64Vx-BXzAa6-Byza5Q-BXzzUr-Byz9Pj-Cmw9a1-CoN1V6-Cw63kt-BXzyDk-Cmw8gC-Cw62SV-CtMeo9-BWy7Xt-BxxChW-BxxCej-CsKPkC-CkuBhs-CsKP7w-CnLAKa-BWy7dH-CsKNNW-BxF5ax-CnLAit-CnLA7X-BxF4DT-Cv4war-Cv4w3T-Cv4vWR-Cv4vRk-CkuzKu-CnLzna-BxF3T4-CnLz94-CkuzoN-BWy5zT-CnLyRF-CsKLYo

Empire of the Sun – Photo courtesy Goatling

At 9:15 the lights dimmed and a fine mist took over the stage, the entrance music for Empire of the Sun began and some darkened silhouettes of four dancers and three musicians appeared.

After a burst of color and light, front man Luke Steele took center stage to open with “Old Flavours.”

Before they finished the first song the entire audience was on their feet and under their spell.  By the second song “DNA” with the lyrics “Just take me away, be my DNA” is exactly what they did.

Luke Steele’s vocals were spot on and he seemed happy to hear the audience singing the words right along with him.  Each song carried a different array of colors and lights with a huge screen that showed different themes and pictures.  During “Half Mast,” the screen showed a field of flowers and pictures of a planet they landed on.  The band and dancers blend well together as they dance and play through a sea of smoke wrapped in velvet and gold.

It is not hard for this band to keep the audience engaged.  It is almost impossible to turn your eyes away from the stage.  Frontman Luke Steele has his own stage out front and center that has a small keyboard that he plays at the same time as playing his guitar.  But he wanders the stage with his elaborate costumes and headdresses, working the audience into a frenzy.  He even went out into the crowd a few times creating drama and showing what a powerhouse bandleader he is.  This is more than a concert; it is a theatrical performance that could fit well on a Broadway stage.

Empire of the Sun - Photo courtesy Goatling

Empire of the Sun – Photo courtesy Goatling

The show was perfectly choreographed with the dancers changing costumes that ranged from alien rock stars with guitars that lit up, to astronauts and butterflies.  The dancers were always in synch and brought an element of fantasy to each song.  Part of this may be because Steele’s partner, Nick Littlemore, worked as composer and musical director for the Cirque Du Soliel’s touring arena shows.

Empire of the Sun’s musical performance makes you feel like you’re in a movie filled with special effects and a cool soundtrack.   By the time they got to “Walking in Dream,” the audience enthusiasm was out of control.

When Luke Steele sang the lyrics “Thought I’d never see the love you found in me” you could see he was happy as he wandered back into the audience to feel the love of the fans.  They ended their set with “Tiger By My Side” and Steele went ’80’s rock star on our ass playing and smashing his guitar to pieces.  The stage went dark and we all couldn’t believe what just happened.  But before we could catch our breath they were all back on stage with “Standing On the Shore.”

They ended with “Alive” and every one of us sang along to the chorus, “Loving every minute, cause you make me feel alive, alive.”  That’s exactly how we felt tonight after experiencing Empire of the Sun.

Hollywood Bowl Fans Feel Irie as The Great Burning Spear Makes His Final California Appearance

Burning Spear - Photo by Craig Hammons

Burning Spear – Photo by Craig Hammons

By CRAIG HAMMONS

Jah cool wind blew peace and harmony over the Hollywood Bowl a beautiful summer evening last week as the sounds of reggae music would soon be soothing our souls.  Everyone was feeling Irie and ready to groove.

We all knew this would be a special evening as Burning Spear announced this would be his final concert in California.  Fans, family and friends came from all over the world to be part of the Burning Spear Experience.

KCRW’s Jeremy Sole opened the night by bringing out the Etana the Jamaican princess of reggae.  She and her roots reggae band covered some of her well known tracks like “Roots” and “Blessing,” before getting into her album “The Strong One” and some tracks from her newest album “I Rise.”   Some of the stand out tracks she performed were “Don’t Forget” and “Jah Chariot.”  She kept the positive energy flowing by covering Bob Marley’s classic One Drop” and even covered the Beatles “Don’t Let Me Down.”  At the end of her set she asked the audience if we were afraid and ended her set with “I Am Not Afraid.”   She told us all to “Do not walk with fear, with all that is going on in the world, find the strength to say no, I am not afraid.”

Ky-Mani Marley - Photo by Craig Hammons

Ky-Mani Marley – Photo by Craig Hammons

Next up was Bob’s son Ky-Mani Marley who kicked things off with his dad’s song “Concrete Jungle”.  The crowd was now up and feeling inspired by this music that magically moves them.  Ky-Mani asked “Are you feeling Irie” (the state of feeling great)?  Everyone was feeling the positive vibes.

He then played a couple new tracks called “Love Over All” and “Hey” which showed what a good song writer he is.

Ky-Mani brought out his friend Sammy Wilk to sing “Light Up” which didn’t take long for a smoky haze to form over the Bowl.   He kept the set fast and lively as he said he wanted to get in a few songs we all loved and ended his set with “Is This Love” and “Redemption Song”.  Every little thing was alright.   He thanked the crowd for this beautiful evening in one of his favorite places.  Rastafari!

As darkness fell over the Hollywood Bowl the stage was lit up bright waiting for the Jamaican roots reggae singer, conga player, Rastafarian and cultural icon Burning Spear.  The We Are One Band came on and played some instrumentals before Burning Spear strolled on stage to thunderous applause and much respect and appreciation.  Tonight was the last chance to see Spear and he would not disappoint his reggae brothers and sisters.

Spear said: “It’s going to be my last show in California and it’s time for “I MAN” to stand down from the stage as I want to say goodbye to my fans.”

Burning Spear - Photo courtesy Marco Swk

Burning Spear – Photo courtesy Marco Swk

Spear is now 71 years old but has got the energy of a young lion.  Spear is just one cool cat.  He was wearing ripped jeans and a Rasta vest and urging the people to sing along.  “Talk to me people,” he would say and we all would respond with cheers of happiness.   The crowd was loving his positive and uplifting songs of love, peace and unity.  Spear told us that we are free and we are going to rock the Hollywood Bowl tonight and that is what we did.

Spear tore thru his set dancing and playing his congas like he was a young Jamaican lad all over again.

He played “Jah No Dead” reassuring the crowd that all is not lost, stay strong and stand tall.  Spear then reminded the crowd that the Spear has been burning since 1969 until now.  He then ran thru some upbeat versions of “Red, Green and Gold” and “Tumble Down” before slowly walking off stage left.  The entire Hollywood Bowl was on their feet screaming for more.  Then Spear and his band came back out and said “Shout it if you want to hear more original reggae music.”    He then went into a slow emotional version of “Purple Rain.”  We all sang along with Burning Spear as he saluted Prince because he always stood up for what he believed in.

The evening ended with a song of truth called “Slavery Days” and then “Holy Foundation.”  Spear stretched arms out to the audience as if he was try hug each of us.  He said “It’s my last performance in California, I know you will always remember Burning Spear and keep his music alive.”  Many happy memories were made tonight as we all were spell bound by the love and unity we all experienced tonight.  Keep the Spear burning.  One love.

 

John Mayall, Known as ‘Godfather of British Blues,’ to play Del Mar Fair

John Mayall - Photo by Federico Giammusso

John Mayall – Photo by Federico Giammusso

By CRAIG HAMMONS – John Mayall may be 83 years old, but count on “The Godfather of British Blues”  to play as if he were 20 when he performs at the Del Mar Fair on June 15.

Mayall will be touring throughout the U.S. this summer and fall.

At a recent performance at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ Jazz, Blues and R and B Weekend, Mayall kept the crowd going with the promise of much more music yet to come.

Mayall, long regarded as a master of blues, was joined by Charlie Musselwhite and three-time Grammy-nominated vocalist Bettye La Vette.

–> See JOHN MAYALL TOUR dates <–

Musselwhite opened with the barn burner “Good Blues Tonight.” Fifty years of nonstop touring has not stopped this bluesman from slowing down. Musselwhite is proof that great music only gets better with age. He reminisced about being born in Mississippi, then later moving to Florida but like all good blues cats he said his heart is in Chicago. He later did a song called “Strange Land” about when he arrived in Chicago and how big and strange it was, with so many tall building and people everywhere.

Charlie’s band may be the best he’s ever had with drummer June Core, bassist Steve Froberg and guitarist Matt Stubbs. For Charlie, the blues is his best friend, as it’s been with him through the good times and comforts him in the bad. This blues cat is still at the top of his game and tonight it showed.

Bettye Lavette - Photo by Bryan Ledgard

Bettye Lavette – Photo by Bryan Ledgard

After a short intermission, next up was mighty and majestic soul singer LaVette. I’ve only heard a few of her of songs before tonight. But after a few songs in, I realized she does not only sing a song, she lives inside each song. LaVette set a high standard and never fell below it.

She can re-sculpt a song, bring it to life and make it her own. She did a very personal song called “A Woman like Me” where she sings: “It’s hard loving a woman like me, you need to think about it before you get hooked on the venom and can’t live without it.”

She’s a tall, slim and sultry woman that slides across the stage with grace.  Her career spans over 50 years. When it was time for her to close out her set she just kept singing as she exited stage left.

Next up was the legendary Mayall. A pioneer of blues music who has had nothing but the best players in has band over the last 50 years including Eric Clapton, Peter Greene, Walter Trout, Mick Taylor and Coco Montoya. But the blues brothers he had with him tonight were tight and on fire. His touring band consists of: Rocky Athas (guitar), Greg Rzab (bass) and Jay Davenport (drums).

At 83 years old, Mayall played like he was a teenager again. He had two keyboards set up in front of the stage with one a piano and the other a Hammond B3. He switched between them effortlessly while at the same time playing harmonica. By the time they were into their second song “Congo Square,” the joint was jumping. One of my favorite songs of the night was the old Sonny Boy Williamson song “Help Me” also done by Ten Years After. Besides playing keyboards and harmonica, Mayall also played guitar on a couple songs even taking some pretty impressive solos.

They whole band all played with excitement and emotion that touched the audience. Mayall says “The blues take takes you, claims you and never lets you go.”

Make no mistake Mayall is a true bluesman still out on the road.

Video courtesy of DoctorNoe

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